Why do I find myself attractive when I look at my reflection in the mirror but unattractive in photos?

Today, I’m going to explain why you think you look better in a mirror than in a photo.

It comes down to the difference between one and two. You have two eyes, but a camera only has one (one lens). This is also why people say “the camera adds ten pounds” to the subject being photographed.

Because you have two eyes, you have binocular (or stereo) vision; you can slightly see the left side of the subject with your right eye, and slightly see the right side of the subject with your left eye, due to the gap between your eyes. A camera has only one “eye” and cannot see either the left or right sides. In fact, it can’t see the sides of the subject that start to curve towards the camera. And the closer the camera is, the more pronounced this effect becomes.

This proximity of the subject also affects what our eyes can see on the sides, but to a lesser degree—the “bulging” is much more pronounced with the camera’s single lens and also when close up. This is why camera lenses used for portraits are often “longer” lenses, more telephoto than wide-angle. Wide-angle lenses exacerbate this effect and people’s faces start to look very distorted. With longer lenses and a subject further from the lens, you get a more flattering and realistic image because it is closer to what people (including yourself) see in real life.

I have created some visuals to help explain this better, and they are slightly exaggerated for illustrative purposes.

The first illustration is the bare model we will use; it is shown from the front, then from above:

Now—what we see, and what a camera sees:

Only the surfaces in green are visible to a camera lens, the surfaces in red remain invisible to the camera:

The surfaces in green are visible to a human, the surfaces in red remain invisible:

With binocular vision (two viewpoints), more surface is seen.

Here is a close-up view of the difference in perspective between a person with two eyes and what a camera sees; compare the red and green lines in each illustration:

The difference may seem minimal, but it is significant and our brain easily perceives it. This is why we look different in a mirror (using two eyes) and in photos (with the camera’s single “eye”). Our binocular vision gives us a different, and to us, more natural perspective. Remember, the silhouette of the person you are looking at remains the same size for both you and the camera, it’s just that our eyes fill in more details on the sides of the silhouette, which the camera cannot do (especially when close up). Our brain senses this difference in detail.

However, the greater the distance between the camera and the person being photographed, the smaller the difference, and the more similar the two views become.

This is not at all a discovery I made myself; I read this explanation many years ago, I think on a photography forum, and I understood its meaning. Here, I am simply trying to illustrate my understanding of this concept. The illustrations above are mine; I hope you enjoy them and that they help you understand the differences in perspective.

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Mohamed SAKHRI
Mohamed SAKHRI

I'm the creator and editor-in-chief of Tech To Geek. Through this little blog, I share with you my passion for technology. I specialize in various operating systems such as Windows, Linux, macOS, and Android, focusing on providing practical and valuable guides.

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